Mbatian: The Story of The Great Maasai Laibon

By National Museums of Kenya

Mbatian the Greatest Spiritual Leader of the Maasai
00:00

Mbatian the Greatest Spiritual Leader of the Maasai
For around 200 years the Maasai were ruled by spiritual leaders known as Iloibono or Laibons. Though not much is known about the origin of their ritual power it is believed that it was passed on between generations of the ole Supeet family dynasty.

Mbatian the Greatest Spiritual Leader of the Maasai
00:00

An Oloiboni or Laibon held the highest place in the social hierarchy of the Maasai . A Laibon’s position was not political but he wielded supreme influence and power through his role as chief medicine-man, diviner, and prophet of the people.

Mbatian the Greatest Spiritual Leader of the Maasai
00:00

Mbatian Ole Supeet was the greatest of them all. He inherited the mantle of leadership from his father in 1866. Mbatian came from Matapato in Kajiado County. He ruled for 24 years, from 1866 to 1890.

Mbatian the Greatest Spiritual Leader of the Maasai
00:00

Mbatian’s tenure marked a period of tranquility, prosperity, expansion and great unity among the Maasai.

During his time, the colonial settlers considered the Maasai to be the Lords of East Africa. Their land covered about 80,000 square miles from the shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya to Mount Meru, near Arusha in Tanzania.

He had managed to unite Maa communities that had previously not seen eye to eye, namely Ilnkisongo, living in present day Tanzania and parts of Kenya with the Ilpurko living in Narok and Kajiado Counties.

Mbatian the Greatest Spiritual Leader of the Maasai
00:00

Mbatian prophesied the advent of colonization by the white man and the coming of an iron snake – a railway line - that would split Maasailand into two, a prophecy that would be fulfilled before his death in 1890. He also cautioned his people not to move from their ancestral lands.

Mbatian the Greatest Spiritual Leader of the Maasai
00:00

He told them that if they did so they would die of smallpox and their cattle would perish. In addition, they would have to fight a powerful enemy which would defeat them. He emphasized that he was about to die and if they stayed put on their lands, he would send them cattle from heaven.

Mbatian: The Great Maasai Laibon by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

Mbatian the Greatest Spiritual Leader of the Maasai
00:00

Mbatian was married to two wives who bore him two legendary Maasai leaders, Senteu and Olonana or Lenana in the English rendition. The story of these two brothers tells of the division among the Maasai triggered by Olonana who disinherited his older brother Senteu by tricking their father into handing over leadership to him.

Senteu: The Great Warrior (Maasai community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

Mbatian the Greatest Spiritual Leader of the Maasai
00:00

In 1890 Mbatian died and was buried at Oldonyo Orok or Black Hill in today’s Namanga hills today. Upon his death, his son Olonana was proclaimed the principal medicine man but his rivalry with his brother Senteu led to loss of life in a protracted civil war which reduced the Maasai population by half.

Mbatian has given his name to the highest peak of the country’s highest mountain, Mount Kenya.

Lenana: The Wise One (Maasai community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

Mbatian's legacy lives on
The Maasai community lifestyle is mainly pastoralism, which has been compatible with wildlife conservation. For example, traditionally the Maasai people did not eat wild animals.

Today however, when there is human-wildlife conflict, pastoralists sometimes try to poison predators. Scavenging animals and birds such as vultures are also poisoned. Then we lose the crucial work they do of keeping the environment clean. Let’s recognize the traditional Maasai values of letting wildlife live!

Mbatian: The Great Maasai Laibon by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

Credits: Story

Credits: Story
Research field work was undertaken in Samburu and Marsabit (for Gabbra, Samburu, Rendille, Saakuye, Dasanach, Elmolo, Waayu a.k.a Waata, and Burji superheroes/heroines), Embu and Tharaka (for Aembu, Tharaka, Ameru and Mbeere superheroes/heroines), Mombasa ( for Boni, Swahili, Pokomo, Segeju and Bajuni superheroes/heroines)and Taita-Taveta/Voi (for Taveta superheroes/heroines) capturing all information about the heroes from the 30 selected ethnic groups/communities by Museum’s research team.

National Museums of Kenya - Contributors
Mzalendo Kibunjia (PhD) - Director General
Purity Kiura (PhD) - Director Antiquities, Sites & Monuments
Julias Juma Ogega - Senior Curator/Research Scientist
Njuguna Gichere - Research Scientist
Lydia Gatundu - Art Curator
Emmanuel Kariuki - Exhibit Designer
Philemon Nyamanga - Curator/Research Scientist
Mercy Gakii - Curator/Research Scientist
Imelda Muoti - Curator/Archivist
Innocent Nyaga - Marketing Officer
Suzanne Wanjaria - Exhibits Designer
Ray Balongo Khaemba - Senior Collection Manager
Raphael Igombo - Education Officer

Nature Kenya - Other Contributors
The East Africa Natural History Society (EANHS)

Editing
Daisy Okoti - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Shani Mutarura - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Jeff Muchina- Shujaa Stories Ltd
Brian Kiraga - Shujaa Stories Ltd

Illustrations
Masidza Sande Galavu - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Martha Shavuya Galavu - Shujaa Stories Ltd

Photography
Eddy Ochieng - National Museums of Kenya
Linda Tambo - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Juelz Laval - Shujaa Stories Ltd

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps